“We offer thanks (modim) to You, for it is You Who are our G-d….”
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the root of word for “thanks-giving” (modem: todah) mentioned at the start of this blessing doesn’t just mean saying “thank you” as we are accustomed to saying in the modern world. The word in Hebrew is derived from “yadah” — “yud, dalet, hei” — which spells the Hebrew word for “hand”. Thus, the actual meaning of “modeh”, thanks, is to “give G-d one’s hand.” It is well known that the hand symbolizes one’s deeds; accordingly, we can derive a fundamental message from the above point. We must dedicate all of our activities to G-d by fulfilling His will. Our “hand” belongs to G-d, for it is from Him alone that we have the powers and abilities that we possess. Thus, to be part of the Jewish People means to “sign our hand over to G-d” (Isaiah 44:5). This is how we say “thank you” to G-d.
Our awareness of what is owed to G-d will result in an acknowledgment of just how indebted we are to Him. We find in the Torah that during the years of famine the Egyptians sold themselves into slavery in exchange for their lives (Gen. 47:19). Accordingly, we must realize from Whom we receive the gift of life, and totally dedicate ourselves to Divine service.
Perhaps we can further explain using the word “yad” since it also means a “handle” to a vessel. Just as it is clear to all that the handle of a vessel has no use of its own, so too, we, G-d’s people, must be completely devoted to our Divine mission. As solders enlisted in the army become more responsible to their country, so too, when G-d chose the nation of Israel we have became more responsible to Him. As a result, our lives are full of Divine commands which occupy our entire being, morning, noon and night. Ultimately, this all-encompassing life experience is for our own benefit, as it is taught in Pirkei Avot, “The Holy One wanted to give Israel merit; He therefore increased for them Torah and mitzvot…”
In closing, we must also offer up thanks-giving to G-d for the opportunity to serve Him, for in so doing, we receive the ultimate good, upon which the world was founded.